”It’s cool to do hardcore s— and be that way, but…death is a whole different thing, man. Especially if it didn’t have to happen, you know?”
— Dr. Dre, minutes after hearing of the death of Tupac Shakur
Death is not normally a whole different thing for Sgt. Kevin Manning, a homicide investigator for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. But the fatal shooting of 25-year-old gangsta-rap star Tupac Shakur, gunned down in front of about 45 people on a Saturday night in the heart of Las Vegas, is harder to solve than most of the 121 other homicides that have occurred in the city so far this year. The question is simple: Who did it and why? Theories abound — it was gang related, it was drug related, it was bad blood between East Coast and West Coast rappers — but there are no definite answers…yet. ”It’s unbelievably frustrating,” says Manning, in his office in the shabby northern end of the city. ”It’s like trying to drive through a stone wall.”
That wall went up Sept. 7, just seconds after Shakur, sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by Death Row CEO Marion ”Suge” Knight on Flamingo Road, was shot four times by one of four men in a white Cadillac. (He died from his wounds Sept. 13.) Knight’s black BMW was followed by a convoy of about 10 cars; there were dozens of people milling about the street. ”But nobody saw anything,” says Manning grimly. ”Strange, huh?”
Not really, in the pugnacious, vicious, often lethal world of gangsta rap. But then, Manning and the two detectives working on the case probably never parsed the lyrics of Tupac Amaru Shakur, especially songs like 1995’s ”If I Die 2Nite”: ”I ain’t happy here/I hope they bury me and send me to my rest/Headlines reading Murdered to Death, my last breath.” His music vividly describes the violence and sense of surrealism that hold sway when ghetto kids turn into millionaire rappers who live — and sometimes die — by Godfather-esque rules. ”No one expects Sly Stallone to be Rambo, but they expect Tupac or Ice-T to be who their persona is,” says African-American scholar and playwright David Trotman. ”To have street credibility, you have to be real. And I guess this is the ultimate street credibility, to give your life for it.” When it comes to ultimate street cred, however, the prize still goes to Suge Knight, 31, the widely feared head of Death Row. A former gang member from the crime-ridden L.A. suburb of Compton who built Death Row into a $100 million-plus business in just four years, Knight and his operations are now embroiled in the investigation into Shakur’s death. A shrewd businessman who signed Shakur to his label last year just before springing the young rapper from prison and whose artists include Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound, Knight is also involved in the feud between L.A.-based Death Row and New York-based Bad Boy Entertainment — a feud that has often divided the $800 million rap industry. Earlier this month, the two camps brawled at the MTV Awards in New York. It’s because of Knight, who is 6’4” and weighs about 315 pounds, and his strong-arm tactics, many say, that no one dares to talk about the Shakur case.